This post originally appeared in The Seattle Times, and is brought to you by Ron Spillers—principal owner of West Coast Decks and good friend of Dunn Lumber's. Ron has over 30 years of experience in the decking industry and has constructed more than 2,000 decks. Ron's seen it all and has saved many a do-it-yourself (DIY) deck over the course of his career. Today, he's sharing his insights on the four major things to consider when determining whether to DIY your own deck or hire a contractor. Take it away, Ron!
With the increasing focus on expanded outdoor living spaces, it’s no wonder that interest in deck building is on the rise as well. At first glance, building your own deck can seem pretty doable (and it can be). There are plenty of places to gather inspiration and ideas, resources that will help you zero in on what you want, and information that will tell you how a basic deck comes together. Today, we’re shedding light on a few of the details that should be kept in mind when considering whether to DIY your deck or hire a contractor—and how to best gauge your ability to tackle the project you have in mind.
The first thing to consider is your skill level. If you’re considering DIY-ing your deck, you probably have some sort of construction skills and generally enjoy this type of work. Some level of proficiency and enjoyment are a must. If you don’t have the skills and don’t have the heart, DIY-ing your deck will quickly eat up your spare time, your patience, and your budget. If you’re feeling on the fence, do your research. With all the information out there, it’s easy to learn how something is done—you just need to have a clear understanding of whether the how is within your reach. If there’s any uncertainty, hire a contractor.
There’s a huge difference between a lower-level deck and a two-story deck with stairs. A common type of deck we see beginner-level DIYers take on are those lower-level decks that are less than 18” to 30” off the ground. In most jurisdictions, once the deck gets any higher than that, the project requires a permit—this is a major barrier to building, and the process of obtaining one can be very frustrating, even for professionals.
Depending on where you live, the height of your deck surface (assuming you're building on a level lot) will trigger the need for a building permit and compliance with the setback requirements of your property. The easiest way to find out what's required for a safe deck on your lot is to contact your local building department.
Not surprisingly, the higher off the ground, the more difficult the deck will be to design and build, especially when you get into the 8’-and-above arena. Stairs can cause headaches (and safety concerns) for less experienced builders. The larger spans between house connection and beam locations—along with support-post locations and lateral bracing—will need to be engineered to meet current code (which is always subject to change). The larger the spans, the larger the framing members will need to be—getting a large framing member up 8’ or more can be tricky.
If you want to DIY, have some experience, and are looking to build a deck on flat ground, we’re apt to support that decision. If you want to DIY, have some experience, and are looking to build on sloped ground, we’d tell you to not even think about it. There’s a lot to know about working with sloped ground. It definitely involves engineering and most likely will require a specialty contractor to help properly anchor your deck to the soil below. We feel the risk factor is just too great, even if you're saving a few dollars.
Building a deck can take a good deal of time. Hiring someone to build a lower-level (30” or less) deck will be the quickest route; most of these types of builds are completed in less than 30 days if the project is not too complicated. Building your own two-story deck with stairs could take months, especially if you’re fitting the project in around work and other family commitments. Plan accordingly!
Our goal isn’t to deter anyone who’s anxious to tackle their own DIY deck build; we just want to share some of the things that need to be considered when making your decision. Building your own deck can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. Knowing when to consult a professional for your deck project will provide you peace of mind—and help guarantee your deck is built properly.
Bring the completed worksheet in to your local Dunn Lumber. One of our team members will be happy to help you find the right decking options for your home.